It was 1992, and we were shooting a documentary on an air-refueling wing for public television. I was the shooter/editor on the project, and as the edit drew to a close, we realized we didn’t have all the shots we needed to complete the end-music montage. The producer called our military contact and explained our dilemma, and they agreed to take us up in the KC-135 tanker “one more time.”
So the woman who works the boom out the back of the plane crawls down a small space, lays on her stomach and works the boom with a joystick—lowering it in place to off-load fuel in midair. To shoot her, you have to be in a very awkward position, lying on your back, looking at the view-finder upside down. Suddenly, out of nowhere, came three F-16s, and I started rolling tape. They began peeling out of formation and coming up to the back of the 135 for fuel, and I was excited at the shots I was getting. After each jet, I would reframe as much as possible, then as the third was about to pull in, I shifted my body to see more of the viewfinder, only to realize the red “record” light wasn’t on. I wasn’t rolling on any of it! Now the third and last jet was already connected and taking fuel. I rolled tape and shot a wide shot of it connected, a close-up of the pilot and then a medium shot of the boom disconnecting, zooming out as the jet pulled away.
Not one shot of a jet pulling up and connecting. I asked the boom operator to give me some cutaways, close-ups of her hands on the joystick, her face looking out the window, waving to the pilots. But I didn’t have a full sequence, nothing of a jet coming up and connecting. We never said a word of the mishap to the Air Force on location, however, hoping we could “fix it in post.”
In the edit room, we discovered if we played the disconnect shot backwards and inserted some shots from the jet’s perspective (which we had in the can), it would look as if the jet was approaching and the boom was attaching. Then we showed the boomer’s face, her hands, then played the footage normally as it disconnected. It worked great, and no one ever knew, not even the boom operator when she saw the finished video. We told her afterward, and she laughed, saying, “I thought I connected to that jet awfully quick.”
Paul Frederick worked in public television for 11 years before forming his own business that specializes in documentary, corporate and nature stock video. Find out more by visiting his website at www.hdadirondacks.com.
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Everyone who has spent time in video and film production has a funny tale or two about this life. Odd and quirky things happen to us and our colleagues that we all like to talk about after the shoot.
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